For many years, the United States was an afterthought in women's artistic gymnastics team competitions. Perusing the sport's records, one notes that, from the debut of the women's event in 1928 until the 1990s, the United States rarely shows up in the medal standings.
For most of this period, the best gymnasts usually hailed from various parts of the old Soviet Union, from the Czech and Slovak Republics, and from Romania. That situation changed at the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996 when the U.S. women finally broke through and won a gold medal in the team competition. They did not accomplish this feat again until 2012. The two gymnastic squads share things in common; however, they are also different in some key respects.
Here are five key similarities and five differences between the 1996 U.S. squad, nicknamed the "Magnificent Seven," and the one that recently won the team competition at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, the "Fab Five."
Gold Medal: The United States won the gold medal in the women's gymnastics team competition in 1996 with the Magnificent Seven and again in 2012 with the Fab Five. The Magnificent Seven and the Fab Five share something else in common: They are the only women's squads to win a gold medal in the gymnastics team event.
Teenagers: Every member of the 1996 women's team was under 20 when they competed in Atlanta. The oldest member of the team, Domonique Dawes, did not turn 20 until Nov. 20, 1996, which was well after the Atlanta Games ended. Like their Magnificent Seven counterparts, all of the individuals on the Fab Five are also under 20 years of age. The team's captain, Aly Raisman, is only 18 years old.
California Well Represented: Both the Magnificent Seven and the the Fab Five were well represented by Californians. Two of the seven members of the 1996 squad, Amy Chow and Domonique Moceanu, were from California. Coincidentally, two of the women on the 2012 U.S. women's gymnastics team, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney, hail from California.
All-Around Heartbreak: In the 1996 Olympics, Kerri Strugg was selected to represent the United States in the individual all-around gymnastics competition. However, she had to withdraw from that event when she injured herself during the team competition. Jordan Wieber's tale is just as sad in some ways. Wieber, who many considered to be the most talented member of the 2012 U.S. squad, finished fourth in all-around qualifying but was not able to compete in the finals of the event because two of her American teammates, Aly Raisman and Gabrielle Douglas, finished ahead of her. Only two gymnasts from each country are allowed to compete in the individual all-around finals.
The U.S. Dominated in 2012: The Magnificent Seven could have lost the Olympic team competition if it were not for the fact that an injured Kerri Strug somehow managed to land her final vault. She scored just enough to allow the Americans to come away with the gold medal. By contrast, the Fab Five dominated their competition. They beat the Russians by 5.066 points, which is a fairly large margin in gymnastics.
Home vs. Away: The Magnificent Seven had a significant advantage in the 1996 Olympics. They did not have to leave the United States in order to compete in the Summer Games, which were held in Atlanta, Ga. By contrast, the 2012 squad had to travel halfway across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England.
All-Around Gold: The Magnificent Seven may have performed admirably in the team competition; however, none of the members of that squad were able to win a medal in the individual all-around event. By contrast, the Fab Five not only won the gold in the team competition, one of their members,Gabrielle Douglas, snagged the gold medal in the individual all-around contest as well.
State of U.S. Gymnastics: The Magnificent Seven are still remembered in part because they were an aberration, at least at the time. Up to that point, the American women had rarely found themselves on the medal stand at the end of the team competition (though they did win a bronze medal in 1992). Since 1996, the United States has medaled in the women's gymnastics team event at every Olympics. Unlike the Magnificent Seven, the Fab Five could look back at their country's recent gymnastic past and draw inspiration from it.
Styles Change: Compare this video of the 1996 squad with these photos of the 2012 team, and you will notice some differences. For one thing, the white uniforms with a stars and stripes imprint, worn by the Magnificent Seven (at least during the team competition) differ significantly from the red uniforms donned by the Fab Five for its team event. Hairstyles have changed as well.
Sources:The Olympic Movement's official website
The official website of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games
The author has followed Olympic gymnastics since 1988. He was on the edge of his seat while watching Kerri Strug's second vault during the team gymnastics competition in 1996.